Session 223: Sex & Relationships Education

For this session (9th October 2014), #UKEdChat achieved another first, as the popular educational chat session came LIVE from the UK Parliament buildings in Westminster.

The focus of the session was Sex & Relationship Education. The questions focused around the following:

  1. How do schools handle discussing SRE teaching with parents who may have concerns?
  2. Do parents complain that teaching material is too explicit? Do you think that SRE is best taught at home, in the classroom, or both. How many parents use their right to withdraw their child from SRE lessons? Is it 1 or 2 per year or more?
  3. What topics should be part of PSHE? Is it best to teach PSHE in drop-down days or as timetabled lessons?
  4. How are you using new supplementary advice in teaching SRE? (https://www.pshe-association.org.uk/news_detail.aspx?ID=1383 )
  5. Do you feel uncomfortable teaching particular topics to students or do you have examples of teaching topics which you think are not appropriate for the pupils’ age?
  6. Are there any questions you would like to ask the Minister around this topic? What should the Committee’s inquiry recommend to the Government?

The Minister with responsibility for this area is Nick Gibb MP, Minister of State for School Reform.

Summary:

This session of UKEdChat was helping to inform a UK Parliamentary committee who were exploring how Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) was being implemented in schools.

The chat started with a look at how schools handle discussing SRE teaching with parents who may have concerns. One response suggested that it is best to involve parents and pre-empt prior to covering the more challenging topics, so helps keep parents on-board. Keeping communications open with parents is essential, being comprehensive and holistic therefore a lot of fears disappear. @ColumMcGuire argued, “It should be statutory for schools to give adequate SRE to young people of all ages that goes beyond biology”, being reduced to the mechanics of sexual reproduction, with a disregard to ethics, emotions or responsibilities. Others pointed out that too much obligation is placed on schools to deliver SRE, and it should be more of a community responsibility, as @eylanezekiel argued, “Schools have become the last organ of the state in our communities that can be made to do stuff that is hard elsewhere.”

On the question of withdrawing pupils from SRE, it appeared that the numbers offered were very low. One response shared that in seven years of teaching, only one family had withdrawn on religious grounds. Interestingly, when @LeeMoscato invited parents in to view the learning materials, only 10% attend, so perhaps this should be on view when schools have their open days, to talk to perspective parents?

Perceptions of sex and relationships in society were blamed on media coverage, and too much lazy journalism which paints young people in a poor light – this is possibly more evident with interaction on social media platforms and the place these ‘dangers’ should have in SRE. Indeed, the session was reminded that youngsters access the answers they want via the internet, so schools should provide safe places for pupils to learn. @HecticTeacher declared that it is, “…so important to teach about healthy relationships when they are non-sexual”. This emotional side to life is very important, yet we’re mainly left to learn this the hard way…usually when it’s too late.

Some schools do not teach SRE within PSHE, or a continual progressive teaching sequence, with quite a few contributors criticising ‘drop-days’, where all subjects are dropped in favour of PSHE/SRE. The problem with such days is there is no opportunity to reinforce learning, being tokenistic and ineffective. If such PSHE/SRE is not timetabled, then the importance of these dissolves – perhaps the importance of PSHE/SRE education should be included in school league table rankings!

One message came through was that lessons need to be taught by teachers who are confident, teaching SRE as though it’s just another subject and no big deal – teaching creatively, actively and appropriately. It appears that many schools in England are still working from a DfES document from 2000, which is not outdated and not fit for purpose. For example, how/where do teachers get the opportunity to discuss the issues around FGM (Female Genital Mutilation)? A realistic observation came through that if you feel uncomfortable teaching SRE, then the students will think it is a big issue – a relaxed nature is necessary.

In fact, as @BEMSN pointed out, “If SRE [is] handled with integrity, students [are] grateful that school is an invaluable and non-judgemental safe place.” Yet Zoe Baxter (@baxzo) claimed that, “teachers want to know what to teach, when, what is appropriate, how to respond to questions, plus where teaching and learning is active with the teacher as facilitator.”

Questions were proposed for future follow-up with the Parliamentary Education Committee, such as making PSHE statutory in all schools; guidance for schools which is relevant with up-to-date topics, such as equal marriage, equality etc; a need for more consolidated thinking; good quality SRE empowers young people with facts and the chance to discuss issues in a safe place – this should be normal practice in every school across the land, with many taboos needing to be challenged, and; expand SRE beyond the biological.

The first oral evidence session for the inquiry is on the 21st October, and questions to the Minister are expected to take place towards the end of 2014. Further information is available at https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/education-committee/inquiries/parliament-2010/pshe-and-sre-in-schools/ 

The Storify from the session can be viewed below, with the archive on the next page…

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About UKEdChat Editorial 3096 Articles
The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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